23 May Just do it
‘How to murder your wife’ was released in 1965.
It tells the story of cartoonist Stanley Ford, played by Jack Lemmon, who stands wrongly accused of murdering his wife. Lemmon’s character uses the defence of justifiable homicide.
The pivotal scene takes place in the courtroom. Ford conducts his own defence, and with his best friend Harold in the witness chair, offers him the chance to dissolve his marriage – and his wife Edna, at the push of a button. Ford batters down Harold’s formulaic defences with the prospect of regaining his freedom, his sexual freedom in particular, which slowly, hypnotically draws Harold to the button. He stops one final time to check that no one will ever know – and presses. The 12 members of the all-male jury acquit Ford. After all, who wouldn’t want to murder his wife?
Despite scoring 69% on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s of course a film that could never be made now. Hilarious – but uncomfortable. A different time. Different sensibilities.
And I find myself in a similar position now with Ronaldo.
As you’ll probably have heard, Ronaldo is facing an accusation of rape, an accusation under investigation by the Las Vegas Police Force. The account is well documented, first and foremost by Der Spiegel, and then by other major news sources.
Of course, Ronaldo is innocent until proven guilty. But Ronaldo’s current defence is even more flimsy than Stanford’s, on both fronts. The legal defence is that his accuser signed a settlement preventing her from going public. The moral defence is the claim that the sex was consensual: read Der Spiegel and draw your own conclusion.
Once again, I’m split. A part of me wants Ronaldo to be untouchable and for the ideal universe he represents to remain intact. A far bigger part of me is horrified at the inevitable conclusion of Der Spiegel’s reporting, informed by documents uploaded to the whistleblower site Football Leaks.
Nike have said they are ‘deeply concerned’.
Of course, this sounds identical to the language of a large business whose main priority is to avoid business disruption. In the US in particular, sponsors have become increasingly quick to distance themselves from ambassadorial misdemeanours. Nike, on the other hand, generally only acts when the burning platform is actually melting their sneakers. Because for Nike, in deep and often longstanding commercial relationships with the likes of Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant and Cristiano Ronaldo, the implications are scary. Withdraw marketing. Cease production. Withdraw product. Manage fall out. Not an easy path to tread, as we witnessed in 2009: with their golf business heavily dependent on the Woods brand, Nike faced it out and stuck by their man. But sexual addiction is one thing, rape is another.
Just six months ago, Nike was making headlines with the 30th anniversary of Just do it. To many people’s delight, they made Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback who was one of the leaders of the kneeling protest against racial injustice, the face of the campaign. Nike used Kaepernick to evolve the application of their famous mantra to overlay it with altogether deeper significance. A black-and-white photo of himself, tweeted by Kaepernick, complete with Nike logo and “just do it” juxtaposed with the quote: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
So I have to ask myself: what exactly does Nike believe in?
Let’s be clear, it’s easy to take pops at businesses for moral inconsistency: as Mark Ritson pointed out this week, Starbucks ambition ‘to inspire and nurture the human spirit’ is somewhat at odds with tax evasion. But it’s hard for brands to maintain consistency across their visual identity, let alone the myriad facets of organisational life. So most companies live with inconsistencies, tensions and internal contradictions – it’s the nature of corporate life. So why expect more from Nike?
Well, there are two reasons. Firstly, because the inconsistency – on the one hand, championing self-sacrifice and principles which go way beyond winning and losing on the field of play; and on the other hand refusing to take action against let us say the suspicion of behaviours which are pernicious at any level of society, let alone perpetrated by one of the world’s greatest sporting icons – emanate from the same department. They are carefully chosen communications from the same source: given the shocking inconsistence in the value systems they represent, the only consistency is one of expedience.
And secondly, because – please: you cannot champion women’s sport and at the same time show such disregard for such a fundamental woman’s right. Innocent until proven guilty is a clear principle of law: but in this context, it’s also a cop out.
It’s the Kaepernick campaign that highlights the issue. Does Nike’s Kaepernick campaign suggest a stronger commitment by Nike to issues of racial equality than of sexual violence? Does Nike Foundation’s investment in The Girl Effect and women’s sport allow them to place their commercial interests above the principle of sexual consent? Does Nike believe rape and serial adultery are simply acceptable from great athletes – because they live by different rules? Or are we back in ‘How to murder your wife’ territory? Does Nike believe rape a little slip that we can live with now and again?
And where does Serena Williams stand on this?